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Frankfurt airport offers ‘gold to go’ vending machine

Tired of buying perfume or chocolates for your spouse while flying home? Looking for a special and safe investment in these turbulent times? AFP's William Ickes reports on Frankfurt airport's new gold vending machine.

Frankfurt airport offers 'gold to go' vending machine
Photo: DPA

Passengers who clear security at Frankfurt airport and fear inflation more than flying could soon find an answer with a machine that doles out a bright, shining answer: gold.

“The reaction by Asian people was fantastic,” gold dealer Thomas Geissler said after his company, TG-Gold-Super-Markt, tested a prototype dubbed “Gold to Go” in the airport’s main hall last week. “A guy was delighted to get a piece of gold to bring back to his wife.”

Geissler hopes to have a working model up and running within three months in a shopping area beyond the X-ray machines where check-in stress evaporates and passengers can kick back. And he is aiming big: Geissler wants to install 500 machines in airports throughout Europe, as well as in train stations, jewellers and up-scale stores in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.

Germany, one of the countries worst hit by the global recession, is seen as a wise place to launch Geissler’s machine because the economic crisis has driven up gold sales in Europe’s biggest economy.

According to the World Gold Council, German investors – and consumers over the border in Switzerland – are hoarding gold at “levels not previously recorded.”

In 2008, there was “a tremendous swing from trivial levels within Europe to very substantial levels” in gold sales, said Neil Meader, research director at GFMS, a London-based precious metals consultancy. “In the closing months of the year, Germany was the star performer.”

While the rest of the world worries about deflation, German economists, bankers and politicians are warning huge government deficits could quickly re-ignite inflation once a sustained economic recovery gets under way.

This worries Germans sick, because hyperinflation and two world wars wiped out many families’ savings in the 20th century, Geissler explained. “Germans are frightened by inflation … Twice was enough.”

Meader, meanwhile, said another factor driving consumers to gold was a “distrust of banks” after a credit crisis drove the global financial system to the brink of collapse last year.

Real time gold rush

Geissler’s vending machine will sell packets containing from one gram for around €30 ($42) at present to five and ten grammes for about €245, along with Australian “Kangaroo” and Canadian “Maple Leaf” coins.

A gramme of the stuff will set customers back by 20 percent less than over the counter at a German bank, but his margin represented just “a nice and reasonable profit” compared with market rates.

Software developed by his firm updated prices every two minutes, he stressed, which meant “we will have nearly a real time price compared with the London gold market.”

And in case police are worried about unscrupulous customers using machines to launder ill-gotten gains, the company is installing video cameras and some machines will be credit card only, he said. “We will pay maximum attention,” he vowed.

The first machine is slated for installation in a Hugo Boss clothing store near the company’s headquarters south of Stuttgart, once talks have been wrapped up.

He confidently predicts a brisk trade at the machines, which will each contain a maximum value of €50,000 ($70,000) – less than in most cash machines.

At sites like Frankfurt’s bustling international airport, “I think you will have to fill up the machine every day,” he forecasts.

A GFMS survey has forecast demand will “drive the bull market into a ninth consecutive year” and could propel gold prices to the $1,100 mark.

In Germany’s financial capital, Geissler’s machine attracted stares, and “some bankers couldn’t believe what they saw,” the gold dealer said.

“It will take a little time until everyone is used to the sight of a gold vending machine,” he acknowledged.

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ECONOMY

German consumer prices set to rise steeply amid war in Ukraine

Russia's war in Ukraine is slowing down the economy and accelerating inflation in Germany, the Ifo Institute has claimed.

German consumer prices set to rise steeply amid war in Ukraine

According to the Munich-based economics institute, inflation is expected to rise from 5.1 to 6.1 percent in March. This would be the steepest rise in consumer prices since 1982.

Over the past few months, consumers in Germany have already had to battle with huge hikes in energy costs, fuel prices and increases in the price of other everyday commodities.

READ ALSO:

With Russia and Ukraine representing major suppliers of wheat and grain, further price rises in the food market are also expected, putting an additional strain on tight incomes. 

At the same time, the ongoing conflict is set to put a dampener on the country’s annual growth forecasts. 

“We only expect growth of between 2.2 and 3.1 percent this year,” Ifo’s head of economic research Timo Wollmershäuser said on Wednesday. 

Due to the increase in the cost of living, consumers in Germany could lose around €6 billion in purchasing power by the end of March alone.

With public life in Germany returning to normal and manufacturers’ order books filling up, a significant rebound in the economy was expected this year. 

But the war “is dampening the economy through significantly higher commodity prices, sanctions, increasing supply bottlenecks for raw materials and intermediate products as well as increased economic uncertainty”, Wollmershäuser said.

Because of the current uncertainly, the Ifo Institute calculated two separate forecasts for the upcoming year.

In the optimistic scenario, the price of oil falls gradually from the current €101 per barrel to €82 by the end of the year, and the price of natural gas falls in parallel.

In the pessimistic scenario, the oil price rises to €140 per barrel by May and only then falls to €122 by the end of the year.

Energy costs have a particularly strong impact on private consumer spending.

They could rise between 3.7 and 5 percent, depending on the developments in Ukraine, sanctions on Russia and the German government’s ability to source its energy. 

On Wednesday, German media reported that the government was in the process of thrashing out an additional set of measures designed to support consumers with their rising energy costs.

The hotly debated measures are expected to be finalised on Wednesday evening and could include increased subsidies, a mobility allowance, a fuel rebate and a child bonus for families. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s proposals for future energy price relief

In one piece of positive news, the number of unemployed people in Germany should fall to below 2.3 million, according to the Ifo Institute.

However, short-time work, known as Kurzarbeit in German, is likely to increase significantly in the pessimistic scenario.

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